US Airline Unveils Revolutionary New Seat For Wheelchair Users

Achievements in aero accessibility.

US Airline Unveils Revolutionary New Seat For Wheelchair Users

Image: CNN/NewsHub

Delta Flight Products (DFP), a subsidiary of US airline Delta, have revealed an exciting new seat concept that has the potential to revolutionise air travel for wheelchair users. The concept, showcased at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, has been hailed as a significant step towards total air travel inclusivity.

Delta Airlines have struggled to stay out of the news in recent months: from the ‘right-wing conspiracy theory’ espoused by one customer to Diplo’s offer of free drink vouchers for Delta customers, they’re doubtless grateful for the free press but — I would hazard a guess — have been looking for a more heavyweight unveiling to provide a much-needed boost to their somewhat volatile public image…

Enter Delta Flight Products (DFP), who have revealed a potentially revolutionary new seat design that could allow customers who are also wheelchair users to enjoy a much more comfortable and streamlined air travel experience which at present, regardless of airline, can be a complex and sometimes degrading process.

WATCH: The new seat in action.

The groundbreaking design seamlessly converts from a traditional seat to a docking station for wheelchairs by folding up, allowing a wheelchair to be secured in place with ease. Importantly, this innovative concept can be installed into existing aircraft seat track systems, eliminating the need for any major structural modifications to the aircraft. This could allow for a quicker and more comprehensive rollout than historic designs.

Another key feature of the concept design is the ability for passengers to use their tray table when the seat is in wheelchair mode, which has hitherto been another obstacle to customers enjoying the full air travel experience. The seat’s central console, which houses the tray table, automatically adjusts to the appropriate height when the seat conversion takes place, ensuring a seamless transition and full functionality.

Cory Lee, a committed traveller and powered wheelchair user, expressed his excitement about the new concept. Lee, who has visited no less than forty-three countries, described air travel as “tremendously difficult” for wheelchair users. The inability to bring powered chairs onboard often forces customers to rely on airport-owned non-electric wheelchairs, limiting their agency and independence. On top of this, the transfer process from wheelchair to aeroplane seat risks simultaneously harming the user and damaging their wheelchair.

Cory Lee, blogger and avid traveller, is no stranger to the difficulties of air travel in a wheelchair. Image: Curb Free with Cory Lee

The design is the result of an ongoing collaboration between DFP and UK-based consortium Air4All, the latter of which is comprised of renowned aviation design company PriestmanGoode — who were instrumental to SWISS’ recent makeover — advocacy group Flying Disabled, aerospace company SWS Certification, and wheelchair design company Sunrise Medical, who ensured that the design incorporated invaluable feedback from the disabled community.

DFP’s prototype has generated genuine enthusiasm among industry insiders and wheelchair users alike. Once various rounds of testing are complete and airlines agree to speedy adoption of the design, the concept could be available for commercial use within the next eighteen months. However, there are still vast challenges to be overcome in order to make air travel fully accessible for all, including the long-debated issue of accessible bathrooms on planes.

All in all, this concept takes us one step closer to the ultimate destination: total air travel inclusivity. While there are still obstacles on the horizon that should not be underestimated, it’s time to buckle up — change is taking flight.